Identity Fraud Law

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 What Is Identity Fraud?

“Fraud” is developing a scheme to cheat or deceive someone to obtain a financial or other gain. The person committing fraud uses false statements, lies, or misrepresentation; hides or conceals important information; or uses deceptive conduct.

Identity fraud is committed when someone takes stolen personal information and commits a crime using that information. The type of personal information taken is often someone’s name, social security number, credit card, or bank account number.

Identity fraud starts when a perpetrator uses a victim’s personal information to pose as the victim in order to obtain products, services, or anything else of value. Reportedly, almost one in five people in the U.S. have been the victim of identity theft. Victims collectively lose billions of dollars every year to identity theft.

Identity theft can take many forms, and one kind is financial identity theft. This happens when the perpetrator uses another person’s personal data for the perpetrator’s financial benefit.

Financial identity theft can happen in a number of different ways, including:

  • Fraudsters use a person’s credit card number to buy things. The fraudsters may gain access to a person’s credit card number online and then use it online to buy items
  • Hackers may steal funds from a person’s bank account. They might start with an amount that seems trivial, totaling just a few dollars. However, criminals can obtain millions if they steal small amounts from enough people in this way
  • Criminals may open new accounts using a person’s Social Security number and other data. For example, a person may use the information to open a new line of credit. They then access the line to the limit and leave the owner of the account to pay the bill

The term identity fraud is often used interchangeably with the term identity theft. Technically, identity theft is the actual taking of the identity or personal information, and identity fraud is the use of that information to commit the fraud. However, the terms are often used to mean the same thing, and both are punishable under the same federal law.

Identity fraud is known as a “white collar crime,” because it does not involve violence against another person. It is true, though, that victims of identity fraud may feel violated by the experience.

What Are Some Common Ways in Which Identity Fraud Is Committed?

What are some specific criminal acts committed with stolen personal information which would qualify as identity fraud?

  • Personal identifying documents may be stolen or forged. When someone has your driver’s license or passport, they can attempt to carry out various activities in your name, such as opening a bank or credit card account or taking out a mortgage or other loan.
  • Personal identifying information may be stolen, but not the documents themselves. The thief can use the stolen information to apply for new documentation, such as a driver’s license, or to fill out an immigration document.

There is no limit to the types of activities that can occur within identity fraud. It includes almost anything that can be done with a person’s personal identifying information.

Is Stealing Someone’s Credit Card Number Considered Identity Fraud?

Stealing someone’s credit card number is considered a form of consumer fraud rather than identity fraud. Credit card numbers may be captured over the internet when someone purchases. Sometimes, devices are placed in card readers so that when someone makes a purchase, a scan of their card number is taken so a thief can use it. The thief then uses the card number to make purchases.

Can I Commit Identity Fraud If I Did Not Use the Information for Personal Gain?

Yes, identity fraud can be committed without any personal gain accruing to the person who commits it. All that is required is that the individual who commits the crime obtain, possess, or use someone else’s identifying information to commit a crime. Regardless of whether they receive any kind of gain due to the crime, it has still been committed.

What Are the Penalties I Face If I am Convicted of Identity Fraud?

States vary in their criminal penalties for identity fraud. There are also separate identity fraud laws at the federal level, which have a separate set of penalties. In general, if someone is convicted of identity fraud, they could face:

  • Jail or Prison Time: The length of the sentence depends on whether the crime was committed was a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanors carry a lighter penalty than felonies, which can result in many years in prison. Whether the crime committed is a misdemeanor or a felony depends on its severity, including the monetary value of whatever crime was committed.
  • Probation: When someone is on probation, they must follow a court’s order to appear or otherwise check in with their probation officer at certain intervals, as well as any other restrictions the court sees fit to place on them, such as drug treatment or community service.
  • Restitution: The defendant may have to pay back what they took from the victim of their crime.
  • Fines: Courts may impose fines on the person who committed identity fraud. This may be in lieu of or in addition to incarceration.

Depending on the circumstances, the defendant may have their initial sentence increased through certain identity theft penalty enhancements. For example, if the convicted person uses the stolen information to perpetrate an act of terrorism (e.g., kidnapping a government official), arson, or airport violence, five extra years should be added to their prison sentence. Some states also increase the penalty if the victim of the theft is elderly or in some way especially vulnerable.

Protecting Yourself From Identity Fraud

In the end, the best solution for preventing identity theft lies with the consumer. Steps that should be taken include:

  • Regular careful review of all bank and credit card statements to be sure to catch the fraud before it gets too big
  • Be very careful about telephone calls and emails that seek any type of confidential information. A person should never provide confidential information, e.g., credit card numbers, to unknown people who call them on the telephone, including those who claim to represent a charity. A person should never provide confidential information of any kind in response to an email
  • Shred all documents, such as bills with account numbers, insurance documents with account or identification numbers, and any other papers that contain identifying personal information
  • If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, you need to report it to the institution involved, e.g., your bank if the crime involves a bank-issued credit card, or a retail store if the crime involves a store where you have recently done business. You also need to report it to the police.

Should I Contact a Criminal Lawyer About Identity Fraud?

If you are being charged by a prosecutor for committing Identity fraud, you must be exceptionally careful. Identity fraud is a very serious crime that can result in significant penalties.

Contact a fraud lawyer to determine your best defense if you are accused of identity fraud. An experienced lawyer will review your case, construct the best possible defense, represent you in any communications with the police, and represent you in trial if there is one.

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